Brexit: exacerbating the wealth divide

Privileged access for big business to government in the Brexit process threatens to make it a “Brexit for the rich”, not the people who voted for it and already felt left behind.

The Independent for 26 August 2017 ran an article by Jon Stone and Joe Watts, based on a report saying that big business and banks have been dominating access to government over Brexit, while labour groups and NGOs have been marginalised.

Without access to the report itself, its not possible to verify its assertion, but at the very least it seems highly credible Last year I blogged about Brexit as a new “class war” in which it felt as if the wealth were grabbing the opportunity of Brexit to re-shape Britain in a way that exaggerates wealth divides.

Advocates of “trickle-down” economics will say this is fine: prioritise the key wealth creators and everyone gains. That didn’t work under Margaret Thatcher, and there’s little scope for it working now, except for those who are temperamentally-equipped to gain from a brutalising “each person for themself” mentality.

Under other circumstances this might be a matter of political philosophy: it’s not possible to re-run the Thatcher years to see how a less-grasping approach would have shaped the UK. But what the referendum did was to expose the bitterness of the social divides in the UK now. There are the divides between those who feel excluded and those they think are doing the excluding. There is a divide of rich and poor which is about the possibility (or lack of possibility) of someone changing their situation. There is the divide between people who fear immigrants and those who celebrate them. Each of these is highly complex. What is not complex is the stark reality that there are deep divisions.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear me saying that I think the best way forward is to heal the divisions and stop the Brexit process they led to. Other will disagree with me. But fueling division by giving the impression that those in the economic “elite” are shaping the post-Brexit future can only make things worse. It runs the serious risk of those who voted for Brexit as a way to attack perceived-elites finding that their Brexit has been hijacked by those elites.

For all its complexity, the European Union has done a good job of keeping very disparate voices across the political spectrum in conversation in a way that the British rather adversarial political system struggles to do. For people want a brighter future outside the EU, this tendency to fight and exclude is their achilles heel, offering a Brexit Britain (or a Brexit England) that is forever divided.

Ultimately prosperity does need the less wealthy to prosper, so they are fully-engaged in, and benefiting from, the economy Theresa May, like her predecessor, promised a “one nation” Conservatism, but she seems to be heading in the opposite direction. The saga of Grenfell Tower gives a nasty reminder of who is being ignored (and the harm this does).

The country needs Theresa May to come clean with plans for a Brexit that really does work for everyone, or to admit that that is an impossibility and re-embrace the European Union recognising, recognising the richness of what this has brought, and can continue to bring.

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